Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is this a dagger ... ?

For my next 'hearing' I've selected another of Sylvia Morris' favorite Shakespeare speeches, this time from Macbeth. One of the reasons I'm most excited about offering this speech is that it gives me a chance to explore with you the inherent stage directions within the text.

Right at the very start, we know that Macbeth needs to spot an object: the dagger. We encounter our second piece of stage business in the second line: Macbeth needs to reach out to grasp it (or attempt to). In line three, we learn that he comes up empty handed, and looks again to the apparition. We have a progression as he questions the reliability of his senses, and he moves from feeling to sight to thought. He begins to reason with his senses as a sensible (or rather, sense-able) being. In lines eight and nine he sees the dagger as clearly as the actual dagger he draws (our next stage direction). Lines twenty-eight and twenty-nine conclude with a rhyming couplet, which may indicate an impending exit, and then we have a sound effect: the bell. Many editors include the stage directions "a bell rings", but even without their clarification we know he hears the bell for he follows with "... the bell invites me" -- the explanation offers a reason why he's remained onstage despite his rhyming couplet -- does the bell halt his exit -- already in progress?


Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

I have been reading Tim Ingold's book Lines: a Brief History, in which he states, "Whether however a line is real or a ghost - whether, in other words, it is a phenomenon of experience or an apparition - cannot always be unequivocally determined, and I have to confess that the distinction is decidedly problematic" (Ingold 2007: 50). This quote is located at the precise juncture of this speech. The line drawn between Macbeth and the dagger exists; it's a palpable presence to Macbeth, but it's decidedly problematic for him in this soliloquy that he can't discern whether "it is a phenomenon of experience or an apparition". Personally, I love being able to draw my own 'lines' between the various things I'm working on, and I was delighted to read this as I've been thinking of this speech. Don't you love it when those things happen?

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